Wednesday, February 06, 2013

No easy answers...

There are no easy answers.  Not in a fallen world.  We forget that.  Often.

1 + 1 = 2

This is truth.  This is fact.  This is constant.  After all, is not most Sci-fi based on the idea that math is the language of the universe?  I have lost track of how many movies in which the sharing of prime numbers is the basis of beginning communications with aliens.

Yet, 1 + 1 does not always equal 2.

In marriage, 1 + 1 = 1.  This is truth.  It is a mystery, really, how God can make one flesh from two, but He does.  It is this math, I believe, that is at the crux of the agony and despair and brokenness of divorce.

Some years ago, I had a collection of stories, poems, and reader's theatre scripts incorporated into a k-12 health curriculum as a mechanism to aid in the exploration and discussion of issues.  The curriculum was used worldwide. As a follow-up, I was hired to write poetry for a women's health curriculum.

Prior to the first project, I had only written one poem, having done so because I kept failing at writing a journal entry about what I saw in a library.  It was in the binder I had brought to the first meeting with the publisher, fell out, and led to the contract being rewritten on the spot to include poetry.

I am not a poet.  Some of what I wrote, I liked.  Some, I prefer to forget came from my pen.  Below is the one I wrote about divorce:

Becoming One

and the two
became one
for better or worse
for richer or poorer
in sickness and in health
and the days passed

somehow we stopped sharing
ourselves, our souls
somehow we stopped seeing
the hurts, the needs
somehow we stopped loving
each other, our life

and the two 
became two
for better or worse
for richer or poorer
in sickness and in health
and the days passed

somehow I must leave behind
the hopes, the dreams 
somehow I must face the memories
laced with love and hate
somehow I must shed
the hurt, the bitterness 

and I became one 

I know a woman who is struggling right now, nearly two years since her marriage fell apart, to figure out how to be one again.  For her, divorce has been devastating.  I am a child of divorce.  Its math does work out for children either.

There is another equation that is equally true and, even more so, the mystery: 1 + 1 + 1 = 1.    Our Triune God.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Three Persons, yet one God.

Recently, I read through a comment thread with a woman arguing that while she believed in God, in Jesus Christ, she did not believe in a Triune God.  I found that odd.  I mean, her arguments really did not make sense.  But they clearly did not have their basis in the Holy Scriptures.

But ... already, I have digressed.

I know a woman whose autistic son is in a world of trouble.  Two years ago, the students at his new school started bullying him.  They were cruel, asking him to go out and then not showing up and telling him to do and say things to girls that were wholly inappropriate.  He turned 18, but he is not 18 at all.  His childish delight in an antique toy I gave him nearly two years ago still lingers in my mind. I have talked with him, interacted with him.  Nothing I saw or heard gave rise to any concern.  But two years of being bullied and mocked and deceived and set-up for trouble have led him recently to look for a proper response in all the wrong places.

In confusion and anger, he made a threat.  In short order, the FBI was combing through this woman's house, confiscating her computer and the weapons left behind by her husband who died shortly after serving in Afghanistan, and institutionalizing her son for a 4-day comprehensive assessment.  It was clear that he was repeating what he's learned from news and online media and he was released. But the son remains a now documented risk, and so has been questioned several times since the original incident.

The mother has no easy answers for her son.  Not about why the other students treated him so horribly. Not about his terrifying stay at the psych institution.  Not about why he is so different.

As a single mother, she has no answers for herself.  Not about how to care for a young man who is growing physically stronger than her, who is troubled, and who has the attention of the FBI.  She worries what will happen to him in the short term.  She wonders what will happen in the long term.  Right now, she wonders if he will even be allowed to finish school.

Before being transferred to a special needs school, her son had no behavioral issues.  Before the bullying began, she could talk with her son about anything and always had counsel for him.  Before the FBI raided her home, she was never fearful of what her son might do.

There are no easy answers.

However, there is an answer.  One easy and yet not.  One that brings peace and rest and yet will also bring trouble in this world.  The answer?  Christ crucified.

I know this.  I know it.  Yet it is, of late, oft very, very difficult for me to remember it.

Right now, I am in the midst of not having any easy answers myself.  In fact, when someone in my life solves the smallest problem for me, I practically nominate the person for sainthood.  They are saints to me.  Carriers of mercy manifest in my life.

A silly thing to you, perhaps, but a woman gave me a solution to sweetening the plain, unflavored whole milk yogurt that I had to switch to when the grocery store stopped carrying Dannon's Pure line I had been using in my smoothies.  For me, eating ... or rather digesting ... has become such a battle.  Smoothies are an essential element in my diet, given both the problems I have with ingredients and with cooking itself.  Having to drink icky-tasting (to me) smoothies was disheartening.  After going a few rounds with folk on Facebook, she hit on the solution and it was one I had on hand: flavored syrups for coffee (I have it for hot chocolate).

I have no easy answers for the illnesses I face, for the financial difficulties before me, for the agony of spirit, or for the confusion that the new memories, new information, and new loss that have arisen in the past few weeks, the past few days, have wrought.

I have words ... many words ... but no place to speak them.
I have Words ... perfect Words ... but I do not always remember them or understand them.

Feeling like I had been punched in the stomach, I learned anew how a person could be many things to many people, that the life a person leads can have rather divergent vectors, creating experiences and relationships that can be rather dissonant, though all stemming from the same person.  I also learned anew, how so very many Christians believe the same is true for the Living Word, that its meaning is made by the reader, personalized, fluid, and commiserate with the times.

While the former is true, the latter is not.  Ever.  The Living Word has a single meaning for all: Christ crucified.  And when one moves away from that meaning to explain how others should be or act or live or to make social norms acceptable, one is no longer teaching, preaching, or speaking the Living Word.  Instead, what is pronounced is the words of man.  I see the latter in a lot of personal piety talk and a lot of guidance for Christian living talk.  But I also see it laced throughout arguments I have read for women's ordination.

I think that, when it comes to our foe, we forget that there is expanded math there, too, 1 = 1 +1 +1, or in other words: our foe (singular) = the devil, our flesh, and the world (plural).  I wonder if the references to our foe, rather than our foes, in the Christian Book of Concord are because the three of them are essentially all the same:  sin.  Sin of standing against God.  [Of course, being not a theologian or a linguist, the singular there could merely be a matter of syntax.]

And, when it comes to the foe of our flesh, I think that we forget that we, too, stand against God, even those of us washed in the holy waters of Baptism.  Yes, we sin against others and we sin against ourselves (such as with besetting sins) and we sin against God in our doubt or unbelief or desire to be in charge of our lives.  But we also sin against God in our pursuit of worship.

By this I mean, when we speak of our desire to serve, our vision for how to share our talents, for how to worship and serve God, we are not speaking of the Living Word.  We are speaking of the words of man.  Our thoughts and feelings and desires, when it comes to spiritual matters, will always lead us away from God, for there is nothing of the natural man in faith.  Christ crucified is whole, is complete, is sufficient for all, to all, in all.

The Living Word is also whole, complete, sufficient.  God made no mistakes or omissions in what He caused penned for His creation.  On specific matters of living in this fallen world, where the Bible speaks, we speak.  Where the Bible is silent, we remain silent.  And on all matters, in all circumstances, we look to the Gospel, we look to Christ crucified.

Yet living in a fallen world means that, despite having THE ANSWER, there are also no easy answers.

Someone wrote me, upon hearing the news of my father's death on top of all else that has happened of late, a reminder to hide in my beloved Psalter.  I sort of laughed.  I laughed because I really do have Christians in my life who find not the comfort I do there so having someone who understands is a bit joyous.  I laughed because, at the moment, I have become lost in a maelstrom of wondering what is real and the though of finding refuge seems absurd.  And I laughed because, sometimes, I don't even know how to hide even though I feel as if, of late, all I do is hide.

I listened to that woman's story and her anguish and only had the comfort of the Gospel to offer her.  But she is not a believer.  As an ex-educator, I, too, doubt, given the current environment, that her son will be allowed to finish school.  With his intellectual and emotional age being so much younger than his physical age, I doubt he will be able to get a job.  Being on a watch list--as one of the FBI agents so bluntly put it--probably will not serve him either.  With his continue growth in strength and size and frustration and confusion, I also do not doubt that there will come a time when she will be forced to consider her own safety above his need for a home.  And, with her low-income, lack of insurance, and no other means of support, I have no ideas for her regarding his long-term care.

For her, there are no easy answers.
For me, there are no easy answers.
But there is Christ crucified.

Two days ago, I posted Psalm 15 on the new Praying the Psalter blog. It has stuck with me, clung to me, in ways I would not have expected.

O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent?
Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,
And speaks with truth in his heart.
He does not slander with his heart.
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
But who honors those who fear the Lord;
He swears to his own hurt, and does not change;
He does not put out his money at interest,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken.

~Psalm 15 (NASB 1977)

How so?, you ask.  Well, I am none of those things.  If I put the hope of eternal life with God, of dwelling with Him in heaven, in myself, this Psalm tells me that my hope is actually futile, that I will not be one who dwells in God's tent.  But, if I see Jesus as the one who walks and speaks and does and honors and swears and remains constant and loans and such, then I know where I will abide. For the Holy Scriptures tell me, promise me, that in Him I live (breathe) and move and have my very being (Acts 17:28).

I may be in a maelstrom, but I am also in Christ.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to mediate in His temple.
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock.
And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me;
And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy’
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,
And be gracious to me and answer me.
When Thou didst say, “Seek My face,” my heart said to Thee,
“Thy face, O Lord, I shall seek,”
Do not hide Thy face from me,
Do not turn Thy servant away in anger;
Thou hast been my help;
Do not abandon me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the Lord will take me up.

Teach me Thy way, O Lord,
And lead me in a level path,
Because of my foes.
Do not deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries;
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
I would have despaired unless I had believe that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.
~Psalm 27 (NASB 1977)

Would that it were I could fill my heart and mind and spirit with the prayer of Psalm 27 ... at least until living in a fallen world, where there are no easy answers, is a bit easier to bear.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

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